Early on April 16, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents carried out coordinated raids on poultry processing plants owned by the Pilgrim’s Pride company in Texas, Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas and West Virginia. A total of 311 workers were arrested, according to figures supplied by ICE in an Apr. 17 news release. At least 91 workers were charged with criminal violations, including false use of a Social Security number and document fraud, and have been turned over to the custody of the US Marshals Service. The other workers arrested are being processed for removal on administrative immigration violations. Of the total number of workers arrested, 58 were released under supervision for humanitarian reasons such as childcare or medical issues. (ICE news release, April 17)
Some of the workers were arrested at the plants; others were picked up at their homes. (CBS/AP, April 17) All the workers arrested in the operation appear to be from Latin America. In a fact sheet about the raids, ICE said 130 of the arrested workers were from Mexico, 112 from Guatemala, 59 from Honduras, four from El Salvador and one from Colombia; the nationality of five others was listed as unknown. (ICE fact sheet, April 17)
A federal grand jury in Tyler, Texas returned indictments on April 1 charging an unspecified number of people with obtaining and using the Social Security numbers of others to get jobs at the Pilgrim’s Pride plant in Mount Pleasant, Texas. The indictments remained under seal until shortly before the Apr. 16 operation began. More arrests could be made, federal officials said. (DOJ/ICE news release, April 16/08; Dallas Morning News, April 17)
The raids and indictments resulted from an ongoing investigation into identity theft which ICE began in January 2007 in collaboration with the US Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General (DOL-OIG), according to a news release issued jointly by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and ICE. (DOJ/ICE news release, April 16) The investigation involved undercover agents. (DMN, April 18) On Dec. 11, 2007, ICE arrested 24 people after serving criminal arrest warrants at the Pilgrim’s Pride plant in Mount Pleasant and at several nearby residences. (DOJ/ICE news release, April 16) All 24 were accused of selling or using stolen or fake work documents, according to a criminal complaint filed in US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in December. (DMN, April 16 via KVUE] Investigators said those arrested were involved in an identity theft ring to help get jobs for unauthorized immigrants at the company’s plants in Mount Pleasant and Pittsburg, Texas. Since then, five have pleaded guilty to misusing Social Security numbers and are awaiting sentencing. The criminal complaint implicated a human resources staffer for the company, according to federal court documents. (DMN, April 17; AP, April 16)
The investigation was carried out in cooperation with the US Attorney’s offices for the Eastern District of Texas, Eastern District of Arkansas, Eastern District of Tennessee, Middle District of Florida, and Northern District of West Virginia. Other federal agencies assisting with the investigation included the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General, the US Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General, US Customs and Border Protection, the US Postal Service and the US Marshals Service. The West Virginia state police and numerous other state and local agencies assisted ICE in carrying out the operation. (ICE news release, April 17)
ICE’s fact sheet showing arrest totals by location as of 1 PM on April 17 reveals vast differences between the operations at the five Pilgrim’s Pride plants. The two plants with the largest number of arrests were in Moorefield, West Virginia, where ICE arrested 115 workers on administrative immigration violations, and in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where 100 workers were arrested on administrative immigration violations. No workers were arrested on criminal charges in these two locations. A total of 36 workers in Chattanooga and 16 in Moorefield were granted humanitarian release. By contrast, all 46 of the workers arrested in Mount Pleasant are facing criminal charges; one was granted humanitarian release. In Live Oak, Florida, two workers were arrested on administrative immigration violations; another 27 face criminal charges. Two workers were released on humanitarian grounds. In Batesville, Arkansas, three workers face administrative charges and 18 face criminal charges; three workers were released. (ICE fact sheet, April 17)
Pilgrim’s Pride Corp.—one of the largest chicken-processing companies in the US—has not been charged. The company has about 55,000 employees and operates dozens of facilities mostly across the South and in Mexico and Puerto Rico, supplying the KFC restaurant chain and other customers. The company worked with ICE agents ahead of the raids, said Pilgrim’s Pride spokesperson Ray Atkinson from corporate headquarters in Pittsburg, Texas. In a news release, ICE confirmed that “management at the affected Pilgrim’s Pride facilities cooperated fully with the arrests.” Atkinson noted that Pilgrim’s Pride participates in the federal government’s voluntary E-Verify program to check Social Security numbers against workers’ names in government databases. (ICE news release, April 17; DMN, April 17; AP, April 17)
“It wasn’t a raid, in the sense that we were working with the government to help them apprehend the people,” said Atkinson. (NYT, April 17) “We knew in advance and cooperated fully,” Atkinson said. “We have terminated all of the employees who were taken into custody and will terminate any employee who is found to have engaged in similar misconduct. We are investigating these allegations further,” Atkinson claimed in a statement. Although ICE listed 311 arrests, Pilgrim’s Pride officials said about 400 hourly, non-management employees were arrested in the sweeps. (AP, April 17)
Atkinson said the company had previously approached ICE with information about identity theft at one of its Arkansas plants. (AP, April 16) In January 2007 at the Pilgrim’s Pride plant in De Queen, Arkansas, police arrested a manager who allegedly rented identification documents for $800 to get a job there. (AP, April 17)
As of April 17, the number of people indicted in connection with the April 16 raid on the Pilgrim’s Pride plant in Mount Pleasant had risen to 48. (KLTV.com, Tyler, TX, April 17) Two of the workers arrested on April 16 in Mount Pleasant were freed on the afternoon of April 17 and the criminal indictments against them were dropped, said Assistant US Attorney Arnold Spencer in Tyler. One of the two, Jesus Garcia, has valid documents proving his lawful permanent resident status and was apparently picked up in “a case of mistaken identity,” according to his lawyer, Fernando Dubove. “It is the wrong Jesus Garcia. It is really tough when you have a common name.” A different man named John Jesus Garcia is apparently still named in the April 1 indictment and is considered a fugitive. Spencer wouldn’t comment on the immigration status of the other worker who was released, saying only that her case was complicated. Spencer acknowledged that “a significant number” of the workers named in the April 1 indictment remain at large. (DMN, April 18, 19)
The raids spread fear throughout Mount Pleasant. Following the arrests, dozens of businesses in town that cater to Latino immigrants had few customers or none at all. (CBS/AP, April 17) Missy Walley, principal of Chapel Hill Elementary school in Mount Pleasant, said that students upset about the raids crowded her office on the morning of April 17. One student’s mother and another student’s father had been arrested, and many students seemed afraid that ICE agents might come to the school. Many other students expressed empathy for those who were directly affected, according to Walley. “It was not just our Hispanic children who were upset,” she said. “It was all the children. It affected the whole school.” (DMN, April 18) Texas Child Protective Services spokesperson Shari Pulliam said her agency was notified about the raid but has not had to take custody of any children. (AP, April 16)
The 36 workers released in Chattanooga have been equipped with ankle-bracelet monitors as an alternative to detention, said ICE spokesperson Gail Montenegro. “I feel humiliated by having to wear the bracelet,” said a Honduran worker named Miriam, who was separated from her 7-month-old daughter for more than 12 hours after her arrest at the Pilgrim’s Pride plant in Chattanooga. “Even if they hadn’t put this on my foot, I would have shown up to court and left if the judge says I have to leave, because I don’t want to lose my baby.” A Guatemalan worker named Candelaria who was released said she is illiterate and her first language is a Mayan dialect, not Spanish—yet she was given documents to sign which were mostly in English, with some translations into Spanish. Candelaria is a widowed single mother to three US-born children, all under age 12. “I don’t know how to read or write. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now,” she said.
Several organizations from Tennessee and Georgia are reaching out to the families of those arrested in Chattanooga to assess their needs and raise money to help with food, supplies and expenses, said Rev. Mike Feely, director of the St. Andrew’s Center and a board member of La Paz de Dios, a Hispanic outreach organization. The groups also plan to hold community forums to explain the legal process and discuss the rights of the detainees and their families, he said. David Linge, co-chair of Jobs With Justice of East Tennessee, came to Chattanooga on the night of Apr. 16 with his wife to offer their help. Feely said the Salvation Army, the Red Cross and various churches have also contacted him to see how they can help. “We’ve had people from all over the place calling us. It’s encouraging,” said Feely. (Chattanooga Times Free Press, April 18)
56 arrests in restaruant raids
On April 16, ICE special agents arrested 11 people in four states on criminal charges of conspiracy to harbor unauthorized immigrants who were allegedly smuggled into the US to work in seven Mexican restaurants owned by Simon Banda. Banda, of Depew, New York, was among those arrested; nine others named in an ICE news release were identified as managers of the restaurants. (The 11th person was not identified.) The US Attorney for the Western District of New York, Terrance Flynn, and ICE chief Julie Myers announced the arrests on the morning of Apr. 16. Six of the arrests took place in the Western District of New York; one in Bradford, Pennsylvania; two in West Virginia; and two in the Cleveland, Ohio area. Flynn said his office has been coordinating closely with the US Attorney’s offices in Atlanta, Wheeling (West Virginia), Cleveland and Erie (Pennsylvania).
The operation involved about 130 ICE agents and 30 state and local law enforcement officers. In all, law enforcement agents executed 26 search and arrest warrants as part of an investigation that began in May 2006. (AP, April 16; ICE news release, April 16)
As part of the operation, ICE agents and local officers also arrested 45 workers on administrative immigration violations while executing search warrants at the seven restaurants, at six residences occupied by the owners and managers of the restaurants, and at 12 apartments used to house the workers. [ICE news release, April 16) Eight of the
workers and two of the managers were arrested in the towns of Mentor and Willoughby in northeast Ohio, at Jalapeño Loco Mexican Restaurant in Mentor and two houses, said ICE spokesperson Greg Palmore. (Canton Repository, April 16 from AP)
The other raided restaurants are: El Caporal Mexican Restaurant in Cheektowaga, NY; Azteca Mexican Food Cantina in Dunkirk, NY; Don Lorenzo Mexican Restaurant in Allegany, NY; La Herradura Mexican Restaurant in Bradford, Pennsylvania; Nogales Mexican Restaurant in Wheeling, West Virginia; and El Caporal Restaurant in New Martinsville, West Virginia. In addition, ICE agents searched a home connected to Banda in Marietta, Georgia, in an effort to uncover cash allegedly skimmed from the restaurants.
ICE was assisted in the Western New York operation by the Cheektowaga Police Department, the New York State Police, the US Department of Labor and Customs and Border Protection’s Office of the Border Patrol. Other federal, state and local partners assisted ICE with the operations in other states. (ICE news release, April 16)
Lev Kubiak, acting special agent in charge of ICE in Buffalo, said Banda entered the US without permission an unknown number of years ago and created a false identity using the birth certificate of a Honduran man. Under the name Jorge Delarco, Banda was granted temporary protected status and permission to work in this country, according to court documents. To find workers for his restaurants, Banda “would contact friends and family in Mexico looking for individuals who would pay $2,700 or $2,000 to be smuggled into this country,” said Flynn, the US Attorney. (AP, April 16) Banda would allegedly pay the workers’ smuggling debts and then force them to repay him with 72-hour work weeks at the Mexican restaurants, at low pay and with deductions for rent in the substandard apartments he provided for them. (AP, April 16; Canton Repository, April 16 from AP)
According to an ICE investigator’s affidavit, based in part on interviews with unidentified cooperating witnesses, Banda skimmed 50% from each restaurant’s profits and stashed the proceeds in bank safe deposit boxes and at his sister’s house. An ICE financial auditor estimated Banda skimmed about $140,000 from each of his restaurants each year.
Banda appeared in court without a lawyer on April 16 and was given until April 18 to hire one. Magistrate Judge Hugh Scott ordered him detained until then, based on the government’s assertion that Banda is a Mexican citizen without legal status in the US. Six of Banda’s restaurant managers, including two of his brothers, also made initial appearances in court. Javier Banda of Depew was released on $5,000 bail, while Honorio Banda of Bradford, Pennsylvania, was held because he is allegedly in the country without permission. Another manager was released on bail, one was held because of outstanding warrants and the others were detained because they are allegedly in the US without permission. (AP, April 16)
Houston donut plant raided
At 5 AM on April 16, ICE agents swarmed the Houston, Texas headquarters of the Shipley’s Do-Nuts complex and arrested at least 20 workers on administrative immigration charges. (Some reports suggested that the number of workers arrested was closer to 30.) The ICE agents, accompanied by Harris County sheriff’s deputies, arrived at the site in a caravan of 50 vehicles, detention vans and an ambulance. An ICE helicopter hovered over the site while the sheriff’s deputies guarded the perimeter. Some ICE agents brought workers out in handcuffs while others questioned employees inside, sorted through company documents and removed documents and other items from the company offices.
The raid focused on a four-block Shipley’s complex that includes a warehouse, offices and processing plants where workers prepare dough mix and fillings used at the company’s Houston-area stores. The compound, fenced off with barbed wire, also includes residences—at least five trailers and 14 small homes–where some of the workers apparently live. The Harris County Appraisal District lists many of the properties as belonging to members of the Shipley family. Agents did not enter the homes during the raid, but Robert Rutt, the agent in charge of the Houston ICE office, told the Houston Chronicle that some of the people who were arrested lived at the complex. Rutt said the operation was planned after ICE received information that unauthorized immigrants were working at the Shipley facility. He added that no one in management has been taken into custody. Of the 20 workers who were confirmed arrested, 11 are from Mexico, including a juvenile; four are from Honduras, four from Nicaragua and one from El Salvador. (Houston
Chronicle, April 16; Dallas Morning News, April 16; Texas Cable News, April 16)
The family-owned donut chain has 86 stores in the Houston area and a total of 190 stores throughout Texas and in Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama. (HC, April 16; TXCN, April 16/08) The company released a statement on Apr. 16 following the raid. “Shipley Do-Nuts is a family-owned and operated business with a 72-year history in the Houston area. It makes every effort to comply with very complicated immigration laws, and is currently cooperating with authorities in an ongoing investigation. Shipley is deeply concerned for the well-being of its employees that are being detained and their families.”
In 2006, 15 workers filed a discrimination lawsuit against Shipley’s, seeking damages for allegedly enduring daily slurs such as “wetback” and “mojado” while working at the company’s warehouse. Most of the allegations were filed against a former plant manager, Jimmy Rivera, and two supervisors. One worker, Joel Sixtos Salvador of Michoacan, Mexico, testified in his deposition that Rivera humiliated him, insulted him and threatened him with deportation if he complained. “He told me he had some police friends and that he could tell them to arrest me and deport me,” Sixtos testified. Filberto Alvarado Robles, who worked for the company starting in 1997, said in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint that “the company knew what was going on, or should know” because workers had complained about Rivera to another supervisor. The company settled the lawsuit with the workers this past February. The settlement terms are confidential. In his deposition for the civil lawsuit, Rivera, a Shipley employee for 30 years, denied ever knowingly hiring an undocumented worker. He denied telling workers to go to a flea market to get fake documents, including Social Security cards.
The depositions in the civil lawsuit include allegations that workers who complained about their treatment on the job were evicted from company housing. The company denied those allegations. Company president Lawrence Shipley III told investigators that the housing was free to workers and their families. But the workers testified that Rivera, the plant manager, charged them fees—in some cases as much as $550—to move into the homes. The workers also alleged that Rivera would charge them to enter a raffle to work overtime on weekends, and charge them $50 to see the company doctor. One worker said he had to pay $100 to Rivera to avoid being fired after refusing to give him a massage. (HC, April 16)
Maria Jimenez, a longtime Houston immigrant rights activist, led a protest against the raid at noon on Apr. 16 outside the Mickey Leland Federal Building with members of organizations including CRECEN, FIEL, America Para Todos, Houston Interfaith Worker Justice, the Catholic Archdiocesan office of Justice and Peace and the Mennonite Central Committee. Jimenez said the Shipley’s raid follows recent ICE arrests at local apartment complexes and the detention of undocumented day laborers. Activists at the protest spoke out against the current unjust immigration laws, called for a fair immigration reform that values family unity and provides a path towards citizenship, and encouraged the community to come out for a march planned for May 1 in downtown Houston. (HC, April 16; TXCN, April 16; message posted by “We’re All Immigrants” on Houston Indymedia, April 16)
Iowa clothing company raided
On March 26, ICE agents raided the American Clothing Company, a clothing recycling business in Council Bluffs, Iowa, arresting 16 workers on administrative immigration violations. Two of the workers are from El Salvador; the others are Mexican. Eleven of the workers are women; five are men. ICE spokesperson Tim Counts said agents had been investigating the business for several months. He said it appears American Clothing officials were “duped” by fraudulent documents; the business is not facing any charges. (Action 3 News, Omaha, March 26; Radio Iowa News, March 27)
From Immigration News Briefs, April 20
See our last post on the politics of immigration.